Morocco Archives

The Marathon des Sables… Could You Do It?

Marathon des SablesSo- want to do the Marathon des Sables, but wondering whether it may be too tough? Could you actually do it?

There’s no doubt that the MdS is a serious undertaking and one which should not be contemplated lightly. You will need to train- this is not a race you can blag unless you have a very good level of running and walking fitness. I am not exactly the greatest endurance athlete in the world, but I trained gradually over two years.

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Marathon des Sables- After The Race

100_2654All that was left was our final night in the desert and then boarding the coaches back to  Ouarzazate. I felt even worse next day and had to abandon attempts to be part of the giant ‘24’ to celebrate the 24th Marathon des Sables and allow myself to be frogmarched back to the tent by my friend as I was about to lose consciousness. The diarrhoea had cleared up but I felt really sick and ached all over.

As we waited to board the coaches many of the officials set off the spare flares and the sky was filled with little pink lights. I picked one up- it looked just like a plug attached to a parachute.

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Marathon des Sables Stage Four; Aferdou Nsooualhine to Tizin Igrs- 26.2 Miles

After finally being able to force my eyes open the stark truth hit me. I wasn’t feeling at all good. In fact I felt actually ill- completely lacking in energy and rather sick. This did not bode at all well for the day ahead and I lay there, desperately summoning the energy to a) get out of my sleeping bag and b) get ready to walk 26.2 miles over sand and rock to finish the 2009 Marathon des Sables.

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Marathon des Sables Stage Three; The Longest Day

Marathon des Sables Stage Three; Erg Znaigui to Aferdou Nsooalhine- 57 Miles

I scrabbled up the slab of rock in front of me, rising like a broken tooth out of the darkness. I had lost all trace of the route and had no idea where I was, I only knew that I had to climb this mountain, but I was so very tired and my ability to balance had completely deserted me…

Head swimming from fatigue and loss of balance I reached for the top, feeling the rough stone beneath my hands- only to see yet another slab rise up in front of me. My foot slipped and I heard a rock dislodge and tumble down into the inky blackness. I had lost my friend and there was nobody else in sight. I knew the most sensible thing would be to descend but the only though my brain was capable of processing was to keep ascending… if I reached the top then surely I’d be able to see the glow sticks marking the route and get back on track…

I reached the top of the next slab only to see a sheer wall rise in front of me. This was it. I was lost- my race was surely over. After two years of preparation, hard training and the disappointment of the floods, the Marathon des Sables had beaten me. I started to cry- tears of fear and frustration.

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Marathon des Sables Stage Two; Erg Znaigui to Erg Znaigui 22 miles

I was absolutely freezing. I had no idea what time it was but the sky was still dark and the bivouac lay silent. I lay there desperately trying to get back to sleep, but there was no chance; the wind was blowing straight through both open ends of the tent, whipping round my ears and down my neck. I pulled my buff up over my face and tried to snuggle down into my sleeping bag to preserve as much precious heat as possible, and lay there, miserably waiting for dawn.

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Marathon des Sables Stage One; Erg Chebbi to Erg Znaigui- 19.5 Miles

I lay in bed feeling a tinge of excitement and more than a tinge of nervousness. This was it- after two years of preparation, floods, torrential rain, mud and disappointment we were actually going to start the Marathon des Sables!!

As we waited for the coaches to arrive to take us to the start I was relieved to see that it was a nice day- sunny and dry but not overbearingly hot and more importantly no clouds in sight. Oddly enough, I had mixed feelings about this- the cooler weather would make for easier walking, but I felt that we weren’t going to be as challenged by the heat as we should have been and wondered whether I would feel cheated as a result.

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The market in Erfoud

I woke to the depressing sounds of the spray of vehicles driving through sheets of water, and so it was no surprise to peer out of the window to discover it was still raining. We went for a subdued breakfast, walking through courtyards where the rain was pooling and dripping off the trees, to hear the news that stage one of the Marathon des Sables had definitely been cancelled.

Although we had expected this it was still a shock and a bitter disappointment, and I was starting to feel that whatever happened I would not be able to say that I had completed the Marathon des Sables. We were informed that there was to be an official announcement later, so a group of us decided to explore the village to kill some time.
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Hell And High Water On The MdS!

“You are lucky”, our coach driver informed us, “It hasn’t rained here for twelve years!”

We certainly didn’t feel lucky as we peered through the rain streaked windows at the desolate scene before us- a darkly threatening sky with torrential rain driven by the winds into horizontal sheets, turning the desert sands into thick, sticky mud.

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So… What Is The Marathon Des Sables?

Every year, around March or April, around 1000 ultra runners and endurance athletes gather in the Sahara desert hoping to complete the Marathon des Sables, otherwise known as the ‘Toughest Footrace on Earth’. I first heard about the Marathon des Sables (or MdS as it’s more commonly known) around 8 years ago, when flicking between channels I caught a documentary about it. My initial reaction was ‘no way could run that!’ but then I noticed something… many of the competitors were actually walking through the desert rather than running. I remember thinking that if I didn’t have to run it all then it could quite possibly be achievable- and a little obsession was suddenly born…

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